Professional Ranking and Titles

As martial artist we often seek to obtain the credibility of being a first-generation student of someone that has achieved greatness like Musashi or Bruce Lee. Boxers and professional fighters are not immune to this either, they often seek to improve their status by training under a particular coach or gymnasium that a famous champion had in their background. Failing this people will adopt a particular style or school linked to a great man.

This is also historically true in western weapon arts, as we can see from the history of dueling, people have endorsed at one time or another the French, Italian or the Spanish style of fencing depending on which one was in vogue. This is still true even today, martial artists will say I am a first-generation student of this great man or that great man, sometimes when the student of a great martial artist achieves predominance over his teacher or teachers, people will follow their method. Jeet Kune Do has many links to Bruce Lee from his students that he certified to teach in Jun Fan or Jeet Kune Do or in their own system based on the structure that he had taught.

On the other hand Wing Chun men (a system I know nothing about), may use Yip Man or his student Wong Shun Leung to form this association. The same is true with other great men and arts linking themselves with the founder of Systema or a one school or another of Kali for example. None of these systems use black belt ranking but they do use certification to verify that the correct methods are followed. But isn’t this is the goal of passing the mantle on in any martial art lineage; as each and every master of art desires to see the art flourish and not diminish.

This is what being the first generation or second generation prestige is about. The same is true for earning legitimate martial arts rank and titles when the association is future down the line from the great man who founded the style. Neither method should be associated with self-promotion. These links to the great men who were the first masters of any given system should be used for promoting the standards of the art. Traditional association with greatness generally only runs two generations deep. By the third generation we begin to rely on licenses to teach, certification, ranks and titles that should represent standards of performance and knowledge for the arts. The first generation and second generation field of great men are not generally as predominant as the founder but this is not always true as the cream tends to rise to the top. Then in turn many people will aligned themselves with the best of these individuals; the second generation men that not only keep the art alive but have helped refine it.

The association with greatness even by symbols is just a part of the human condition. Some styles use specialized clothing to denote the level of the practitioner. Some styles use colored belts (karate, judo, jujutsu), championship belts are used in sporting systems like boxing, wrestling, and mixed martial arts. Some systems use various colors of boxing gloves (gold, silver, bronze), depending on if the art is amateur like in western boxing or French kickboxing. As it is all men tend to improve our credibility and improve our self-image by association.

Every profession has its own criteria for this and it is especially true if there is a particular guild or network involved with regulating the performance of the profession. You can see this with doctors, lawyers, engineers, and architects. This is also true in fine arts as well; the performer or artist is often judged by whom they studied under and/or where they studied. This can be seen in academics with colleges and universities. Students struggle to gain entry into schools that can give them prestige that may open doors on the job market. This is also true for martial artist even though many martial artist failed to recognize this important and necessary form of validation. They look at a belt as a rag around the waist not recognizing that they too follow their own standards of association with greatness while belittling the way that others achieve it. Although not everyone has the chance to train with a legend.

Certification and rank is an important part of authorization in part to protect the naive. Martial art mastery should be viewed along the lines of the apprentice, journeyman, and master process, not ownership of the students. I constantly hear individuals from various schools of thought say that that they do not believe in rank or in the title master. They often reject the symbols of the status from other systems that endorse a method of certification that is different than the one that they hold dear, which generally means they are either a first or second generation student. To achieve a title from a guild or an association you should have to pass through the ranks before being endorsed as a master. This generally requires a sum of money and proof of your work before you are accepted by the the guild, (or association as is this case for martial artist). If the work is not accepted by the other masters you were out in the cold.

This is true with academic degrees from universities too, as they were once considered master craftsmen in their own field of academics. The fault in this system lies not in the process but the fact that some achieve unearned merit buy purchasing it. Even great teachers have some 1st generation student that gained admittance because they could pay for it. Did Elvis earn his rank or did Willie Nelson, they both trained in martial arts and they both loved it. I believe Willie is still at it and good for him. They both did a lot for promoting the arts with their fame and support. Willie jumped from a second degree to a fifth degree in a matter of a few years is that fair to someone who has to spend three and four years in between each promotional test? On the other hand, Willie is humble and has done a far better job than I have at promoting the martial arts. I for one can see merit in his promotion.

Don’t get me wrong, I also understand the complaints about egotistical individuals that using the term master as if they owned their student and go around trying to enforce a modern feudalism type of state within their association or martial arts school. That is not what the title master is about; it is about being able to produce quality in yourself and in others. I do not believe in the suppression of another person’s freedom but I do not believe that the recognition of title or rank is necessarily evil.

As a society we refer to certain people because of their profession almost exclusively by their title. Often times this is used the matter if they were on the job or off the job (police, military, and court system), the power over life or death seems to be a key factor, in my mind this elevates the martial art titles somewhat. Some individuals are only referred to by their title if we are somehow interlinked with them; as a doctor and patient, a judge in court, a police officer, or a military officer, but is the title maestro (given to a master musician), only a maestro when he is conducting? The same can be asked for a sensei or sifu in their own kwoon or dojo. If you are a student at a college or university you may be more inclined to refer to your professors as Dr. so-and-so or professor so-and-so. Almost everyone refers to medical doctors by their horrific title of Dr. in and out of their practice. It is often pointed out that they are due this honor because of the many years and expense they spent earning this distinction. I understand that the validation of time and the investment of a life deserves recognition but isn’t respect a two-way street? On the average individual spins 12 to 13 years if you include kindergarten and/or preschool as part of the journey to becoming a high school graduate. Then you have four more years of college and depending upon your field of study you can add another four six years to achieve your doctorate degree.

The word doctor is ordinarily associated with medicine, while the word doctor is derives from the Latin for teach. I understand that in Japan most professions use sensei for professionals in their field of expertise. I wonder how the investment of time is more important in one field of study than it is for another. How many decades of your blood, sweat, bruises, chipped teeth and broken bones went into your training as a martial artist? What makes one person more worthy of their title and another person’s investment of their life, time and money less valuable?

In our society I believe it comes to the carefully crafted mental manipulation designed by the institutions that grant these titles. After all colleges and universities make their money by the prestige of their offered degrees and titles. Still it isn’t uncommon to hear individuals holding a doctorate in one field belittling someone who has a doctorate in another profession or field of study. This has been going on between medical doctors, and chiropractors, as long as I can remember. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard medical doctors refer to chiropractors, acupuncturist or other healthcare professionals as quacks. I have even received chiropractic like adjustments from medical doctors that were so bad that the treatment sent me to the hospital. My point is that there is validity in the field of specialization in every branch of study. We do not have to throw stones at practitioners that use a different form of measurement for their association with greatness.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.